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Traditional Mas Characters - Minstrels


Photos and research courtesy the Carnival Institute of Trinidad and Tobago (CITT).

Minstrels are classified as any band of singers, disguised with or without painted faces and using instruments such as the banjo, maracas, clappers, rattle etc., simulating American negro dancers of days gone by. The Minstrel in Trinidad dressed in “Whiteface”, they parodied the white minstrels in America who dressed in “Blackface” and claimed to imitate the behaviour of blacks. Minstrel of old sang plantation songs and other American songs like “Swanee River” and dressed in a variety of costumes e.g. Uncle Sam tailcoat, pinstripe trousers, white gloves and felt top hat.

Traditional Mas Characters - Cow Band

Cow Band

Photos courtesy the Carnival Institute of Trinidad and Tobago (CITT)

The Cow Band, which dates back to the days of the Canboulay, consisted of a small group of men dressed in costumes of sacking made from rice bags. These costumes were completely covered with dried plantain leaves. Each masquerader wore a homemade papier-mâché mask representing the head of a cow with a pair of horns. Members of the band would frolic and move through the crowds behaving like real cows. This masquerade became dormant for a few years, and was later revived by the employees of the Abattoir, and became part of the J'Ouvert celebrations.

Recently, usually on Carnival Tuesdays, the Cow Band comes out in brightly coloured costumes, with picadors and a matador who would challenge the cows. The cow character's costume consisted of tight-fitting breeches of yellow velvet or satin, with gold braid and spangles along the sides and around the bottom at the knees, a tight-fitting maroon satin long-sleeved blouse completely covered with a soutache decoration of gold braid, gloves, cream stockings and alpagatas. A well-secured cap-like contraption on the head supported a pair of highly polished cow horns. A short section of the hairy part of the cow's tail was attached to the seat of the breeches. An imported wire gauze mask replaced the cow mask of the previous day.

Traditional Mas Characters - Jab Molassie

Jab Molassie

Photos and research courtesy the Carnival Institute of Trinidad and Tobago (CITT).

The Jab Molassi or Molasses Devil is one of the oldest forms of Devil Mas. He wears wings, horns, has a wire tail and carries a pitch fork and usually strikes fear in the hearts of both young and old.

He was usually covered in a sticky black substance, which was in the old days, molasses. Its origins date back to days of the sugar estates, when freed slaves, who formerly toiled on the sugar estates, daubed themselves with the familiar and readily available molasses (a direct by-product of sugar cane) as a means of disguising themselves and playing a cheap mas. Today, the Jab Molassie has evolved to include blue devils, red, green, white, yellow and even Jabs covered in mud, and chocolate syrup.

Traditional Carnival Characters: from Past to Present

Carnival today seems to be dominated by the 'Bikini and Beads' mas, but what of the traditional mas of yesteryear? Each year during events such as Traditional Mas competitions and J'Overt celebrations, we see examples of traditional characters parading the streets of Port-of-Spain. However, much of what is described today as Traditional Mas can best be described as modernized versions of the original. But how did the Dame Lorraine, The Midnight Robber and other characters come into being? What is the History behind these characters?

“All July 2015, as we celebrate Traditional Carnival Characters Month, we are going to take a look at some of the well-known and some of the lesser-known, but nonetheless beloved characters. Come take this journey with us into the past.” See all the entries here!